Laski, Harold Joseph

views updated Jun 11 2018


LASKI, HAROLD JOSEPH (1893–1950), British left-wing socialist and political theorist. Born in Manchester, he was the son of Nathan *Laski. At the age of 18, Laski eloped with a non-Jewish woman eight years older than himself. He was educated at Oxford and was recognized as a brilliant scholar from his youth. Laski lectured at McGill University, Canada, from 1914 until 1916, when he taught at Harvard, there forming a close friendship with Oliver Wendell Holmes, the U.S. Supreme Court justice. In 1920 he became a lecturer at the London School of Economics and was made professor of political science in 1926. He held this post until his death and greatly contributed to the increase in standing of that institution.

During the interwar years Laski played an important part in public administration in Britain as a member of the industrial court, the departmental committee on local government, and the committee on legal education. He also sat on the lord chancellor's committee on delegated legislation, which examined the accusation made by the lord chief justice, Lord Hewart, that the administrative system was no longer bound by the rule of law. Laski was a member of the national executive of the British Labor Party from 1936, where he represented the left intelligentsia. In 1945 he became chairman of the party and was the chief target of conservative propaganda at the general election of that year. Following the Labor victory at the polls, however, Laski's influence waned, with Prime Minister Clement Attlee telling him that "a period of silence from you would be welcome" after he tried to intervene in policy following the 1945 election. Nevertheless he had a profound effect on the development of British socialism and was an outstanding figure in the British Fabian Society. Laski was also one of the founders and directors of the influential Left Book Club. His writings include A Grammar of Politics (1925, 19384), in which he set out his concept of the pluralistic state and The State in Theory and Practice (1935) in which he adopted the Marxist doctrine of the state being an instrument of economic power. His other works include Parliamentary Government in England (1938), The American Presidency (1940), and The American Democracy (1949). For a considerable time he played no part in Jewish life, but he helped Weizmann change the provisions of Passfield's *White Paper (1929–30). The Nazi persecutions aroused his interest in the Jewish problem. He denounced antisemitism and began to take a deep interest in the Zionist struggle. In 1943, he replied to a Labor Party resolution on the Jewish question saying "The executive recognizes, and I as a Jew in the fullest sense of the word claim, absolute equality of status in political, social, and economic rights with any other people in the world." At the end of the war Laski clashed with Bevin over the Palestine problem and he declared himself in favor of a Jewish commonwealth in Palestine. He welcomed the establishment of Israel and was sympathetic to the work of the Po'alei Zion movement and the "Friends of the Histadrut." Laski's last years were clouded by his unwise involvement in a libel suit against an allegedly antisemitic newspaper editor, which he lost after a highly publicized trial. He died of bronchitis at the age of only 57.


K. Martin, Harold Laski: A Biography (1969); H.A. Deane, The Political Ideas of Harold J. Laski (1955), incl. bibl.; H.M. Magid, English Political Pluralism (1941); T.I. Cook, in: American Political Science Review, 44 (Sept. 1950), 738–41. add. bibliography: odnb online; M. Newman, Harold Laski: A Political Biography (1993); I. Kramnick and B. Sheerman, Harold Laski: A Life on the Left (1993).

[Moshe Rosetti]

Laski, Harold Joseph

views updated May 29 2018

Laski, Harold Joseph (1893–1950) British political scientist and teacher. A prominent member of the Fabian Society, he served on the national executive of the Labour Party (1937–49) and as party chairman (1945–46). As a teacher, he influenced a number of the first wave of post-colonial leaders.